Patricia Barber – Clique
(Impex. Album Review by John Bungey)
It’s usual to start reviews in the UK of Patricia Barber by expressing bafflement as to why a jazz singer of the first rank isn’t better known here. Of course, if this site was Paris Jazz News or Jazz News of Chicago (her home turf) the question wouldn’t figure. In London, though, visits are rare – but a 2006 set at Ronnie Scott’s rates as one of my all-time concert-going highlights (a slightly grumpy 2012 show less so).
Anyway, Clique, her first standards album for 21 years, is a beauty as she reclothes songs made famous by Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Stevie Wonder in a mood of sophisticated introspection.
The core sound of this album is a duet between the icy cool of Barber’s voice and the lean, supple acoustic bass of Patrick Mulcahy. The spare opener, This Town, points the way with Barber conjuring a picture of urban menace that’s darker than Sinatra’s swinging Sixties tale of mean streets. “This town” isn’t just a few menacing wise-guys but a left-behind gomorrah of crime and rust.
Lightening the mood, Antonio Carlos Jobim’s One Note Samba, sung in Portuguese, sounds like delicate art song; I Could Have Danced All Night floats in dreamlike over tinkling cymbals. Neil Alger‘s acoustic guitar enchants before rhapsodic piano, with Barber’s poised vocals the polar opposite to Julie Andrews’ ingenue glee. Shall We Dance is coolly suggestive; Jim Gaillorato‘s tenor sax takes the tune on to the dance floor but the protagonist here seems to have more than a foxtrot in mind. The In Crowd is another voice and bass duet. They’re eventually joined by piano, but this is a gang too select even for percussion.
One minor quibble: the sequencing. The third track, Mashup, is a freewheeling eight-minute instrumental work-out that comes before the tone of the album has been fully established. Full of darting runs and shifting rhythms, this group flexing-of-muscles would sit better near the close, swapping places with a swinging Straight No Chaser.
Barber signs off with Stevie Wonder’s All is Fair in Love and War, slower, sadder and more poignant than the original – love is lovely but it’s clearly for losers.
On Clique the Chicago singer-composer has taken tunes you’ve heard a thousand times, refreshed them and fashioned them into something compelling and new. Nothing sounds hackneyed or has-been. It’s a tradition of re-invention that’s as old as jazz itself but few artists have pulled off the trick quite as successfully as Barber does here.
Clique is released today, 6 August 2021
LINK: Clique at Impex Records